Applying for Unemployment Benefits Due to COVID-19

business man wearing a mask and carrying a box of all his office items

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Program
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was passed, and within weeks, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was also signed into law, both of which include provisions that expand eligibility for unemployment benefits. This gives states the option of extending unemployment compensation to independent contractors and other workers who are ordinarily ineligible for unemployment benefits. Qualifying applicants will receive state unemployment benefits based on eligibility, along with an additional $600 a week for up to 13 weeks.

To receive unemployment insurance benefits, you must file a claim with the unemployment insurance program in the state where you last worked. Depending on the state, claims may be filed in person, by telephone, or online. Each state administers its own unemployment insurance program, so the individual state website should have the most up to date information.

Locate your state unemployment office by using this Department of Labor link: – find-state-unemployment-insurance-contacts or use the CareerOneStop Unemployment Benefits Finder:

The first step is to file a claim. Here’s what to expect:

Online Filing
Most states provide the option of filing an unemployment claim online. As long as you have access to a computer at home, a friend or family member’s home, or a local library, you may have this option. In some communities, there are additional resources to assist with filing for unemployment, as well as help with applying for jobs, completing paperwork, and assisting with online forms. Call 211 or visit to find out if there are programs available in your area to help with filing. Because the number of applications has dramatically increased recently, be patient and persistent in your follow-through.

Phone Filing
Applying over the phone may be best for those who do not have access to a computer or those who may have a disability which makes online filing more difficult. Again, prepare to be patient. Many applicants have experienced long hold times, due to the surge in unemployment claims. This may be more location-specific based on the number of job layoffs in that state. Be persistent and keep trying throughout the day or try early in the morning.

When applying for unemployment benefits over the phone, you may need a pin number after the initial filing has been completed. This will allow you to then follow the prompts to file your unemployment claim over the phone or to follow-up on the status of your claim.

Apply in Person
Again, this will vary depending on the staffing resources in your local area but be prepared to wait if applying in person. It may make sense to research the recommended method for filing in your area, before visiting your local unemployment office.

Railroad Unemployment & Sickness Benefits
Rail workers receive unemployment benefits through the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board. The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) provides benefits to qualified employees to partially restore lost income. It is not administered through the state unemployment resources. Railroad employees may apply online or by mail. See the Railroad Unemployment and Sickness Benefits page for more information:

Moving Forward
Receiving unemployment benefits can be a lifeline to keep your household running, able to pay bills, and for essentials. For general information and the unemployment insurance locator, see the Department of Labor Unemployment Insurance Fact Sheet: If you need additional help understanding what you may qualify for and how to apply, talk to a Money Coach.

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